Two Days in Yangshuo
by Lenore Hirsch
From Bilian Peak
Photos of the Li River in Yangshuo, China against a backdrop of karst mountain peaks drew me in. After a week with friends in bustling Hong Kong, I was ready for a rural escape and a solo adventure.
My short flight to Guilin arrived at sunset and a taxi waited to take me to Yangshuo. The driver, a young Chinese woman, chatted constantly on her cell phone. Without a seatbelt, I bounced on the sunken back seat, then breathed a sigh of relief to finally see the peaks of Yangshuo, lit by spotlights in the darkness.
The Venice Hotel sits on Xi Jie, or West Street, a block from the river. The narrow stone street, reserved for pedestrians, vibrated with a party atmosphere. While I marveled at the shops selling everything from Burberry coats to beads made from Tibetan yak bones, the tiny driver lugged my suitcase into the hotel.
After I checked in, the street pulled me back--the loud music from dance clubs and throngs of young Chinese in jeans and tee shirts brought a smile to my face. I felt safe in the jovial crowd. From the Twin Peaks Cafe, I watched the scene from an upstairs balcony while eating fried eggplant and drinking milk tea. Back in my room, I noted the lovely hardwood floor and the bed--almost as hard. Earplugs provided a quiet night's sleep.
My morning walk led me to a wide street full of speeding motor bikes and women with yokes across their shoulders carrying baskets of just-picked greens. Over breakfast of dumplings and tea at the Riverside Cafe I watched the river--fishermen on skinny bamboo boats and women doing laundry on the shore. A climb up the steps on Bilian Peak allowed me to explore temples and historic calligraphy on the rock walls.
The merchandise displayed on Xi Jie could not be casually observed; just a glance in either direction was enough to unleash non-stop price negotiations. For lunch, Kelly's served up the local beer chicken with a spicy red sauce of garlic, ginger, celery, and green peppers. Back at the hotel, I booked a boat ride.
The young woman who came to take me to the dock had me follow her to her motor bike. I took a deep breath and climbed on behind her, without a helmet, and held on to her skinny frame for dear life. At the dock she pointed to an open bamboo boat, not much wider than the ones the fishermen used. Just a driver, who knew no English, and me.
My afternoon was full of misty mountains, green trees whose curved branches mimicked the shapes of the mountains behind them, and occasional cattle on the bank. The fishermen's balancing act on their narrow boats was perfect, until one shifted his attention to me and, grinning from ear to ear, almost fell in.
That night I saw Impressions Liu Sanjie, six hundred performers on the river, viewed from an outdoor amphitheater. Zhang Yimou, known for the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, created this spectacle of music and brilliantly lit costumed singers and dancers. Row upon row of fishermen on rafts raised and lowered bolts of red cloth as long as a football stadium.
In the morning, Moon Hill, a mountain five miles out of town, promised a hike and mysterious photos. At a taxi stand, I showed the driver the Chinese characters in my guide book, and climbed in. It started to rain, fogging the cab's windshield. The driver wiped it with a rag. I asked him to pull over and showed him how to work the defroster. He beamed widely, happy to learn something new about his vehicle.
At Moon Hill a tiny shriveled woman greeted me on the path, offering her guide services. No thanks. Only eight hundred steps to the top. I climbed through thick bamboo, pausing to look below at the brown and green checkerboard of land. Alone on the mountain, I finally arrived at a clearing where the peak came into view. Against an overcast sky, the hilltop sported a crescent-shaped hole. This amazing feature began as one of the caves that fill these mountains. In a land where architects build holes into skyscrapers for dragons to pass through, Moon Hill exuded magic.
Invigorated, I made my way back down. Despite taking a spill on the slick steps, I arrived safely at the road and inquired about transportation back to town. A café proprietor dispatched her husband to drive me. As I packed for the return trip to Hong Kong, I reflected on two delightful days in Yangshuo. I had seen few westerners, filled my memory with beautiful landscapes, and explored a new culture--a perfect solo adventure in China.
All photos by Lenore Hirsch.
Lenore Hirsch is a retired educator living the good life in Napa Valley, California, and blogging about having lunch alone at Lunch Encounter (www.lunchencounter.blogspot.com).